Something New!

This blog post is actually a combined one that I (Aviva) did with my teaching partner, Gina Bucciacchio (@_missginab). It’s a note that we published on the first page of our March Newsletter for parents, but then we thought about sharing it here, so that people can offer their feedback as well. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the changes to our program!

Aviva and Gina

As the year continues to progress, we continue to relook at what we’re doing in the classroom, and think of ways to make our program even better. When working with small groups of students during guided reading and writing activities, we noticed that many students need even more opportunities to practice writing using different forms, carry-over their learning about conventions (i.e., punctuation and spelling) into their everyday writing, expand on their ideas in their writing, pre-plan more before writing, reflect more on what they read, and consistently use a combination of their own ideas and information from the text when answering questions about their reading. Based on student needs, we decided to make a change to our literacy centre and guided reading routine.

We’re now doing Genius Hour for literacy centres. You can read more about Genius Hour here. Students are really enjoying reading, researching, and writing about their passions, and we’re able to then use writing topics or reading comprehension topics and various materials (from non-fiction books to newspaper articles to computer websites) for our guided reading and guided writing sessions. More frequent one-to-one and small group intervention also increases the amount of immediate feedback that we can give to students (both orally and in writing), which John Hattie notes is important for student success.

Our PA Day session on February 15th (more specifically, the information that we learned from John Hattie’s video), definitely helped convince us that this change is a good one.

Genius Hour also aligns with our current TLCP on point of view and reading for meaning. More of these links are noted in our Curriculum Topics Chart at the end of this newsletter. It is also with our TLCP and student needs in mind that we’ve decided to make a change to our Writing Program. Three days a week (one period a day), students will be working through a Writing EQAO question in class. On the first day, they’ll complete the organizer, on the second day, they’ll do their rough draft, and on the third day, they’ll use the editing checklist to revise their work. We’ll do full class and small group writing mini-lessons in class that help students with areas of difficulty that we continue to notice, such as proper paragraphing, sentence variety, conventions (i.e., spelling and punctuation), and expanding on ideas. We think that this addition to our program will definitely help students improve their writing skills.

Our final change is one to our Multiple Choice Mondays routine. Since we know that many students need to continue to work on their reading comprehension skills, every other week, we’re going to do a reading comprehension activity for Multiple Choice Mondays. Students will work in partners to read one of the EQAO Reading Comprehension Texts, and we’ll give them a Level 2 or Level 3 short answer response from the marking guide. Students will then use their own ideas and the feedback on the answer to “bump up” this work. We’ll explore our student responses in class and provide feedback to the students that they can use when writing their own answers as well. We’ll then tweet out the multiple choice questions that align with the text, and students will work in partner groups to answer these questions, citing specific information from the text to support their answers. This activity also aligns with our current TLCP.

What do you think of these changes? What other suggestions do you have as we work on improving reading and writing skills? Hopefully parents, educators, and administrators will all chime in with their thoughts. We’d love to hear them!

Aviva and Gina

“Playing” Through The Arts

I taught JK-Grade 2 for 11 years before moving to Grade 6 this year. Even as a Grade 6 teacher, I do five periods of Kindergarten and Grade 1 prep coverage a week, and it’s funny how I very quickly fall back into singing, dancing, moving, and “playing” with these young learners. It was actually at our Staff Meeting after school yesterday that made me think about how important it is to move this “play” and movement from primary to junior.

Yesterday, we were fortunate to have our wonderful Arts consultant, Karen, come to present to us on integrating the Arts into our program. Early on in her presentation, she spoke briefly about the full-day Kindergarten program, and her belief in the importance of moving this play-based model right through the divisions. It was then that she had me hooked!

This week in math, we began our unit on geometry, and we actually had numerous hands-on activities, where students used everything from string to geoboards to playdough to create different triangles. The problem-solving component of each of the activities, and the open-ended nature of each one of them, really had the students eagerly communicating about math. The more they played, the more they wondered, and the more they wondered, the more they learned!

As Karen was speaking, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Arts could become a part of this math unit. How could we use Drama and Dance to help students explore geometry in new ways? This question was soon answered as Gina and I sat down to plan for next week. In an excerpt from our Livescribe Minutes below, you’ll hear how we plan on using the Arts as part of our math class on Monday. (I do apologize in advance for my giddiness! When the idea evolved, I was just so happy that I couldn’t help myself! This plan involves the Arts and technology: I’m in my element. :))

Even as mentioned in these planning minutes, when it came to teaching geometry, I was terrified! I have such a significant learning disability in visual spatial skills that I questioned how I was going to explain concepts in which I struggle. When Gina and I started planning this unit last week though, we really looked at how I could understand the concepts, and in doing so, we looked beyond just pencil and paper tasks. The visual and kinaesthetic activities that we planned for this week and for next week, helped make this unit fun, but also successful for all learners: myself included! 🙂

So a special “thank you” to Karen for coming in and talking at our Staff Meeting and a special “thank you” to our wonderful administrators, Paul Clemens and Tammy McLaughlin, who arranged for this presentation to happen. I don’t think that Monday’s math lesson would be what it is now without this presentation. Now I can’t wait to see how else we can use the Arts in other subject areas to make learning meaningful, engaging, and exciting.

How do you integrate the Arts into your class? What ideas would you suggest to others? I would love to hear what you have to share!


Is this a bad thing?

I was thinking about a comment on a fantastic blog post by Sue Dunlop (@principaldunlop) during my Staff Meeting today. Sue was replying to some comments from other educators about mobile technology, and here’s what she said:


This really got me thinking, as I’m the person that will be texting (or in my case, tweeting) during a meeting, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not engaged.

I can’t just sit and listen. I’ll sit quietly, but I won’t absorb anything. If you ask me what I learned at the end of the meeting, I’ll say, “I don’t remember.” It can be the best presentation ever, but I guarantee that I won’t remember any of it — unless I write it down. A funny thing happens when I write things down: I remember them, even if I never look at them again.

Today was a PA Day in my Board, and we were in meetings all day long. I started off the day presenting to the staff, but then I sat down and watched a presentation on John Hattie and visible learning. This presentation largely included watching this great video where Hattie explains his beliefs and research.

I decided to do something that I don’t usually do during a Staff Meeting: I chose to tweet out what I was learning. It was incredible! I couldn’t keep up with all of Hattie’s wonderful quotes. Best of all though, when I was sharing them, I was also thinking about them, and I started to make connections. Now not only did my tweets help me remember what Hattie said, but they helped me make sense of what Hattie said.

Tonight at dinner, I was actually talking about Hattie’s beliefs, and I remembered almost all of the details, thanks to having the opportunity to not just listen, but to write and share what I heard. All teachers are different, and I know that tweeting lines from a video (or later tweeting information shared during a presentation by Em Del Sordo, our Organizational Leadership Principal of Student Success) would not work for everyone, but it helped me understand the information better.

Mobile technology allowed me to do what I did today. Yes, people often use mobile technology for personal reasons, and yes, it would have been easy for me to be off-task today, but what I shared was all very much on-task. Maybe as teachers, we need to continually show how these “personal tools” can also be used for learning, and then we have to ensure that we create a environment where students want to use these tools for academic purposes.

What do you think? How do you create this environment in your classroom? How do you use mobile technology as teachers? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


Getting It Wrong


Some Calculations From The Math Art Activity

At the beginning of this week, my students were finishing off a Math Art Project that reviewed the concepts of area and perimeter: Math ArtProject Expectations. Students could communicate their thinking in any way that they chose, and I saw everything shared from videos to point form notes to paragraphs. As I was uploading the completed videos on Tuesday night, I noticed some problems though. One group had made a multiplication error and another group had used the wrong perimeter formula in a few cases. I then had to make a decision.

I wanted to post all completed work on our Grade 6 Blog, but could I post work that I knew was incorrect? What would be best for the students in this case? While I assumed that both mistakes were careless errors, what if I was wrong? Maybe these students lacked the understanding of a concept that they needed. I had to know.

Yes, I was giving the students a mark on this project. I could have just marked the work wrong, completed the rubric, and moved on, but when students make mistakes, I need to know why. The next day, I met briefly with both groups as soon as the students came in for the day. For the group that made the multiplication error, I showed the group the question, and asked them to explain what they did. Right away, they picked up on the mistake, corrected their work, and then during math time, re-recorded their video. For the second group (made up of a single person this time), I asked the student the formula for finding the perimeter of a rectangle. She immediately replied, Area = (length + width) divided by two. I then asked her to have another look at her work from yesterday. She also picked up on the mistakes, and then figured out a way to correct them.

On Wednesday night, I was uploading videos again, when I noticed that a third group made two small errors: one was in addressing “more” versus “equal,” and one was in multiplication. I spoke to this group the next morning, and they also figured out their mistakes. Instead of re-recording their videos, they decided to make another video addressing their errors, and showing what they did to correct them.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been talking in class about making mistakes and learning from them. Students used to get upset when they were wrong, but now, they are willing to re-examine their work, try again, and show their learning in new ways. I love how the students now respond to “getting it wrong.” My biggest concern is not when mistakes are made, but instead, ensuring that students know how to fix them.

What do you do when students make mistakes in their work? How do you ensure that students understand the content that they may have gotten wrong? 


Ask The Students

This week made me realize that often students can be our best resources. Educators often tweet questions about how to best use a tool or a program in the classroom, and for years, I’ve been trying to figure out all of the possible options. As I converse with other teachers, consultants, and administrators on the benefits and uses of various tools and programs, I realize that the people that are missing from this conversation are the students.

Last weekend, I received an email from a student of mine. She’s gone on vacation for two weeks, but she’s concerned about what she’s missing. She asked me if she should FaceTime in for any of our math lessons. I started by emailing her the .jpg images of the math lessons for the week, along with some additional information, and asked if just reading the information would be enough. She still had questions though, so we arranged a time for her to FaceTime. Not only did she stay for the lesson and the project overview discussion, but she also joined a small group, and worked on the initial planning for the project. Amazing! I would have never considered using FaceTime in this way, but this student knew what she wanted and was willing to take time out of her vacation to make this work. I love that!


Then comes the group of students in my class that have showed me the power of using Minecraft for learning. Last week, a group asked to create their media text for their Social Studies project using Minecraft. Then this week, when I introduced our Math Art Assignment, the students asked to use Minecraft to create their “art.” Not only did they make the shapes in Minecraft, but they determined the area and perimeter of each one, and they even considered visual display. On Wednesday, one student said to me, “I never would have thought that Minecraft could be used for learning, but it really can!”

It was then Friday when I heard again from the student that’s away on vacation. She knew we were working on our Museum Day Projects in class, and she wondered how the projects were going. I spoke to her group, and they wondered if they could connect with their third member to finish things off. How could I not encourage this? The group then used my iPad to FaceTime her, and their iPhone to text her. It was fantastic! They used tools and programs that they usually use for personal reasons, and they used them for academic purposes. Students were engaged, on-task, and collaborating well — even between countries! 🙂


I know very little about FaceTime, Minecraft (which I often call, Mindcraft), and iMessage, but the students know more, and they can teach me what they know. More so, they can teach me how to use these programs to show what they’ve learned and to learn well with others. 

How do you give students a voice in what tools and programs to use, and how to use them? How do you work together to ensure that they’re used well in the classroom environment? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!